Teaching with Joy
A Rabbi’s Recipe for Teaching Includes Huge Helpings of Heart and Humor
Rabbi Aharon Friedler will do most anything to reach and teach his students at Hebrew Academy of Nassau County. Just recently, Friedler, who teaches Judaic Studies and AP Computer Science to high school students, had been looking for a way to engage a young man who seemed shy and seldom spoke up in class. He discovered the boy was a hockey goalie. “Well, in high school I was a hockey captain,” Friedler says proudly. “So, I challenged him to a shootout, took the whole class with us and I didn’t score a single point. That smile I got after was priceless to me.”
Friedler received his master’s degree at Touro’s Graduate School of Jewish Studies in June 2021. “I had taught for several years before I went to Touro,” he says, “so Touro didn’t teach me how to teach, but without a doubt, they taught me how to be a much, much better teacher.”
He credits the school’s focus on the methodology behind teaching for making him a more attentive and effective teacher. “We would have practicums every day in front of our professors and fellow students, and the back-and-forth on how to improve, what worked, what didn’t, was invaluable,” he recalls. “You could teach your whole life, but are they getting the information they need? Are they engaging? Are they getting context and critical thinking? You can’t just spew data at them. You have to engage them. That’s what I learned at Touro.”
When Friedler taught fourth graders, who occasionally floated away to their own worlds, he didn’t raise his voice or scold them. He made them laugh and showed them his creative side by changing the school’s Drop Everything and Read (DEAR) program to Drop Everything and Sing (DEAS). He schlepped his guitar to school and whipped it out when he felt a little music was warranted to cheer the class up and give them a break from reading and writing.
He also exudes an innate kindness and sense of joy. During the height of the pandemic, Friedler, a husband and father of six — four of whom are teachers! — decided that Zoom wasn’t working in showing his students how much he cared about them, their education and their emotional well-being.
He would spend hours making cholent (a Jewish Sabbath dish of slowly baked meat and vegetables, prepared on a Friday and cooked overnight) at his Far Rockaway home. Then on Fridays, he would drive for up to six hours, across three counties, to deliver the traditional dish and wave and talk (okay, shout) to where his students stood, delighted and socially distanced, in their doorways.
Friedler, 58, possesses a healthy pride in his culinary skills and would never deliver a cold meal that was meant to be served piping hot, so he connected his car battery to an inverter that allowed him to plug the cholent into a regular outlet.
“By nature, I’m a builder. I do all my own projects at home, plumbing, electricity, whatever needs repairing,” he explains. “I’m doing the same thing as a teacher. I’m helping to build people. To me, helping to mold and teach and build young people is the greatest calling. Building people is emulating G‑d, who Himself was a builder.”